My first grade class at St. Therese Catholic School in Denver, Colorado, is made up predominantly of immigrant children, many of whom are learning English as a second, third or even fourth language. Families are poor and often broken. The school is humble and resources are limited.
We’re a small but tight-knit community and, much like our patroness, we pour all our efforts into the little acts of teaching and love, relying on the grace of God to fill the gaps. As the Little Flower promised, God pulls through in unpredictable and wonderful ways.
A few months ago, the students were struggling with a particular prompt in Catechesis: Write a sentence telling God how much you love Him. Hands shot up followed by answers like, “Dear God, I love you,” and “I love you SOOO much!”
As someone with a heart for Theology of the Body, I wanted more. “You can say that to anyone. How can you REALLY let God know you love him?” I asked.
The answers were typical: “Be nice to my sister.” “Share my toys.” “Give money to poor people.”
Nice, but not enough. “Yes, those are good things you can do. Is there anything you could say?”
This was met by a long silence. Students glanced around in confusion. Some began to shift in their seats. Perhaps it was too early for this concept, but stubbornly I let the silence hang one more moment.
It was Paola, an English-language learner whose speaking and comprehension skills had exploded this year. She bears a strong resemblance to St. Therese in both looks and ambition — a strong-willed, frizzy-haired firecracker with dreams of the convent.
Her eyes were shining as she said simply, “I love you so much I will sacrifice for you.”
There it was — the theology of the body, the theology of salvation, indeed the very heartbeat of what it means to be Christian — summed up perfectly by a six-year-old and left hanging in the air of a stunned first grade classroom.
She got it.
She didn’t get it because she’s a savant child. She didn’t get it because we read countless stories about sacrifice. She didn’t get it because I’m some stellar educator.
She got it because recognition of Love sits at the core of every human heart, however young.
When the heart is loved, it knows. When the soul is consumed with love for another, it acts. Paola simply identified what every heart knows to be true: Love sacrifices.